A cloak of invisibility and about $3000 per course.

16 08 2010

This settles it. Mark C. Taylor is definitely blackmailing an editor at the New York Times as that is just about the only thing that can explain his presence on their web site yet again. This time it’s on a forum about those inconsiderate professors who refuse to retire:

Faced with rising costs and declining resources and revenues, colleges and universities are facing an unprecedented financial crisis. One of the most important factors contributing to this situation is the combination of tenure and the lack of mandatory retirement. The solution is clear but its implementation is difficult: abolish tenure and reinstate the policy of mandatory retirement at the age of 70, which was abolished as recently as 1994.

Um, wouldn’t the second suggestion there take care of the first? The guy just had to slip tenure in because he hates it so much (even though he’s probably had it for twenty-five years). Luckily, Claire Potter came up with the obvious retort to such nonsense:

Will my retirement create a tenure-track job? While no federal law mandates my retirement, none prevents a provost from replacing me with ill-paid adjuncts either. Voluntary retirement is one leg of a full-employment policy agenda for young teacher-scholars. The other is a national commitment to reforming an academic job market defined by the act of replacing full-time faculty with casual labor.

She sees the invisible people that Mark C. Taylor can’t. At Columbia, I guess, they’re probably called grad students but rumor has it that they haunt the streets of New York City in large numbers, answering their e-mails at Starbucks between jobs on multiple campuses since they don’t have an office to themselves. Perhaps one of them will remove their cloak of invisibility and introduce themselves to Professor Taylor sometime.

However, the editor who Taylor is blackmailing is even more worthy of our scorn than Professor Taylor is. Who decided that “The Professors Who Won’t Retire” is more worthy of a “Room for Debate” feature than say, “The Academic Labor Crisis”?* Historiann, where I found this link originally, offers a theory as to why this particular fake issue periodically appears:

I’ll just reiterate my suspicion that “dead wood” is mostly a political tool for those who don’t want to fully fund higher education and adequately staff academic departments. (Why buy a tenure-track faculty member when you can get three adjuncts for the same price?)

I agree, but I think there’s more. The wonderful attribute of this diversion as opposed to the usual ones is that it gets professors fighting amongst ourselves rather than joining together to improve everybody’s lot. Hang together or we’ll all hang separately I always say.

Beyond that, all such non-issues remind me of the Thomas Frank What’s The Matter With Kansas? argument about Republicans and cultural issues. A TPM reader made this argument again today beautifully:

Republicans ALWAYS run on symbolic issues. Their substantive positions are not popular. People don’t like tax cuts for the rich, they don’t like endless military commitments, they don’t like corporatism, they don’t like lax regulations, etc. So Republicans always pick some symbolic, unimportant issue and make it sound like it’s the most important thing in the world. This is nothing more than the flag factory, the swift boats, and Reverend Wright all over again.

As long as adjuncts wear their cloaks of invisibility then we can’t really talk about the root cause of the academic job crisis: the casualization of labor. This is the academic politics of distraction writ large. Don’t blame us, blame the senile old fogey over there.

* If they’ve already done that one some time and I missed it then I apologize, but it’s definitely a subject well worth doing twice.

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